Friday, March 30, 2007

my obligatory "Namesake" review

"The Namesake" is perhaps one of the best movie adaptations of a book that I have seen. Now truth be told there aren't a lot of books that I've read where I've seen the movie, and vice-versa but it's darn good. I mean I read the book for Back to the Future II (true story) and did a book report on it for school (also a true story) AND I watched the movie. That was a pretty good story, let me tell you. Any book that gives a pre-teen child the glimmer of hope of owning a hover-board in the year 2005 is a Penguin Classic in my books.

For the record people will debate often times when the future really is. Sometimes people will say it's the year 2000 because it's a nice round number; pop-culturally inclined people will say 2010 because of the movie 2010: A Space Odyssey. I guess it's a subjective question but I use B2F II as my benchmark, and hence the year 2007 is officially 2 years into the future in my books.

Seriously though "The Namesake" was special to me as a book because it was like reading out chapters from my own diary. The only thing I ever wished that was different was that the book was written about 10 years earlier in my life when it would've been particularly helpful at an age when I was thinking a lot about how my Indian identity fit into my American reality. What's interesting about the movie is that it seems less Gogol-centric than the book; instead I find that it revolves around the father. Perhaps that's just my perception or perhaps it's because enough Gogol scenes that showed internal frustrations rather than actions to be caught on a screen were edited out.

Before I go on about the father, can I just say that all the characters seemed to be cast perfectly. The dad really has the look of being an Indian uncle, looking more distinguished as he got older versus the awkward mannerisms and looks of his younger self. Also it has a great soundtrack mostly composed by Nitin Sawnhey although at times the music seems a little bit disjointed when the scenes changed. I wanted to write about the movie a little bit because I feel that too often when you read movie reviews in newspapers you end up getting a plot summary instead of analyzing the themes and cinematic decisions made to drive the movie forward. It's sorta like reading a book report in middle school versus college. I'm not saying my thoughts are a perfect academic dissection of a few issues of interest, but it's good to elevate conversation once in a while.

I mean if you wanted to just surf around on the internet and read people post about spotting goofy desis or people practicing bad elevator etiquette well then you should just read…well… this blog. But still…. Now I could be wrong about some of these meanings, but hey, it's an attempt.

I felt the movie was centered around the father because in many ways he embodies the blending of the West and East the best. Around every inconvenience or struggle both personally or as a parent brought by living so far from India, he never strays from his mantra that anything is possible in America. In some ways Gogol's Rite of Passage (which I don't think should be necessarily be placed as being more significant than the mom's, albeit it is for different reasons) results in him reaching a level of understanding at the end of the story that his father had from the beginning; Gogol doesn't view his heritage as a burden but as a source of strength.
The movie was helpful because it coyly illustrated several nuances that I think I missed while reading the book many moons ago. For example at Gogol's marriage ceremony there is the slightly comedic scene of the priest pleading to have an open fire inside the wedding hall. A wedding without a fire would not be proper….but clearly it was not going fly with the hotel staff.
Fire codes of New York: 1
Hindu rituals: 0

The absense of the holy fire serves to foreshadow the fact that the marriage ultimately would not last.

Prior to meeting her husband the Ashima (the mom) placed her feet in Ashoke's (the father) shoes. This act would be replicated after Ashoke's passing when Gogol walked around the vacant apartment wearing Ashoke's shoes. What's interesting is that both characters are walking around in Ashoke's shoes. In Ashmima's case the sight of shoes made in America was a glimpse into all that is possible and the future. In Gogol's case it was a look backwards of all that was and what the past really meant.

Instead of an elaborate rating systems that pretends to think that one can judge "Curious George" on the same scale as say "Gladiator" I rank movies based upon a simple metric: Would you buy it on DVD or no? There are a lot of good movies, don't get me wrong, but I just really wouldn't want to watch some movies over and over (although it's not as if I watch a ton of movies I have over and over anyways). Allow me to demonstrate:
Dead Poet's Society: Buy
Glory: Buy
Talladega Nights: No
Castaway: No
Mean Girls: Buy
Roll Bounce: Buy
Monsoon Wedding: Buy
Little Miss Sunshine: No

….and so on and so forth. Quite simple this is a movie that I would buy and may unseat "Lost in Translation" as my rainy day movie of choice. There are parts of it that made me close to tears and often times in unexpected placed. When Ashima first comes to America and inadvertently shrinks all of Ashoke's clothes, the sadness and emptiness she felt while locked in the bathroom was deeply touching.

Anyhoo, that's enough of my feelings for the day. Watch the movie. I don't just say that from the perspective of an Indian kid watching the Indian experience unfold on screen, but rather from the perspective of a first generation immigrant family grappling to preserve their cultural values within children who are questioning them as much as their parents really had.

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